A loop of rough roads out of Katesh circles around the north side of Mount Hanang, making for an interesting half-day drive for motorised travellers, or a worthwhile hike for backpackers who don’t particularly want to climb the mountain or who want to explore the area without guides. The scenery along this road is lovely, passing through cultivated montane meadows and lower-lying acacia scrub, with the mountain looming to the south and Lake Balangida and the Rift Valley escarpment about 5km to the north. A diversion to the lake and its hinterland offers good birding and the opportunity to seek out some little-known rock paintings, as well as exposure to rustic Barabaig and Iraqw villages.
Leave Katesh along the Babati Road, and after 5km you’ll reach Nangwa, a small settlement noted locally for its Catholic Church with impressive stained glass windows. A left turn at Nangwa leads you onto the loop road and, after about 4km, the semi-urban sprawl of Giting, also the trailhead for the Hanang ascent route of that name. From Giting, you’ll probably need to ask somebody to point you in the right direction for Barjomet, which lies another 5-6km along the loop. The cultivated highlands between Giting and Barjomet buffer the forest zone of Hanang, and once you reach Barjomet, a small crater, clearly visible from the road, hosts a seasonal lake where local villagers bring cattle and sheep to drink. Moving on from Barjomet, the road deteriorates to become little more than a rough track as it descends into a hot valley, densely covered in acacia woodland. After about 5km and 10km respectively, it passes through the small traditional villages of Gendabi and Dawar, with fine views of Lake Balangida to the north. About 2km past Dawar, the loop road emerges on the main road between Katesh (to the left) and Basotu (to the right).
A worthwhile excursion from this loop, best undertaken in the company of a local guide, and about 5km long in either direction, leads from Giting to Gidawira the shore of Lake Balangida. This shallow body of water, far to saline to drink, is set in the sweltering depression that divides Hanang from the Rift Valley scarp, and it often harbours substantial concentrations of flamingos. In recent years, Balangida has often been reduced to a puddle, or dried up entirely, during the dry season. When this happens, the extensive white flats are exposed, and the local Barabaig can be seen extracting coarse salt by the bucket load. Also of interest are some faded rock paintings, depicting both animals and people, which can be reached by scrambling up a rock face close to Gidawira. This is hot walk, with no portable water to be had along the way, so do bring some bottled water with you.
Exploring this loop is straightforward enough in a private 4×4 vehicle, and should take no longer than half a day allowing for stops and diversions. As for public transport, you’ll have no problem finding transport along the Babati road as far as Nangwa, and may be able to pick something up from here to Giting. But, barring a lucky hitch, you’ll probably have to cover the roughly 20km from Giting to the Basuto road on foot. With time, and the right from of mind, this is a far from unattractive prospect, though covering the loop in its entirety in one day would be pretty tough going. Assuming you have a tent, it’s permitted to camp at the Forestry Department office at Giting, and local PCVs reckon you’d be unlikely to hit any obstacles to camping elsewhere in the area, provided you asked permission from the local chief first. Even if you don’t fancy covering the whole loop, you could consider camping at the Forestry Department in Giting and from there arranging a guide for a day trip to Lake Balangida.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009